I remember in the months and weeks leading up to my 2011 hike of the PCT, as I prepared, I researched like crazy. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Not spending more than a few days at a time in the wilderness in my life (and those were mostly as a kid or in college), I had a steep learning curve to traverse.
But one thing caught my eye, and made me wonder.
There were folks that not only hiked the PCT successfully once….but there were people who decided to hike it again. In some cases, again…and again…and again!
What the heck?? Why? Why would someone do that? I mean, walking with a pack on your back through some pretty rugged and challenging – although admittedly beautiful – terrain, seemed like a good test. Once.
My thinking was, “Why not mark the PCT off of your list, and move on to another trail?” Maybe a little more challenging in another aspect, like the Continental Divide. That’s more dependent on your ability to navigate well with a map, compass, stars. Or another continent, maybe. The Camino de Santiago, maybe? Or the Alps? Maybe hike around Scotland and Ireland (one of my dreams, for sure). Why not go spend your time, energy and money on something like that? Diversify?
Scott Williamson has hiked the PCT 13 times. THIRTEEN times! He holds the unassisted speed record, set this last year, in a southbound hike. (We crossed paths near Seiad Valley). But really, Scott? Thirteen times?
Or Jackie McDonnel (aka, Yogi), who has hiked the PCT three times. (She also puts out a set of guidebooks that are widely used by many PCT hikers).
No Pain (no sense Googling No Pain, he is off the grid, much like his hiking style!). I hiked and spent time with No Pain all throughout my hike in different spots on my 2011 hike. He’s hiked the PCT several times as well as many other trails.
As I started off on my hike I asked myself what the big deal was with the PCT in the sense of doing it more than once. I had other trails I would like to do in my life. I couldn’t go back to the PCT after I was finished hiking it.
But an interesting thing happened on the way to this year’s hiking “season.”
I got it. I absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably understood.
I want to be back on the trail. Not because I didn’t make it the full 2,650 miles…because I WANT to. (I made 2,000 miles of it before I made the decision to come back. You can read about that decision back a few entries on my blog here). I miss the trail. I crave the trail. I long for the Sierra. I miss sleeping under the stars, night…after night….after night. I miss needing to be flexible in my plans just to make it through the day. I miss the diversity of terrain and ecosystems, the feeling of immediate accomplishment after hiking to the top of a tall pass, or passing another 100 mile marker. I miss the potential danger. The mental and physical challenges thrown at you each day. Those reasons, and so much more. So much more.
There is definitely a pull. Magnetic. Strong. Resonating.
In talking with some of my friends I made on the trail, it’s a common theme. The pull of the trail. Condor, Grizzly Adam, Leader, Bonnzai, Alaska Dan, Stickman, Marmot & Roo, Scarecrow, among many others…We all feel it, for many of the same, yet uniquely personal reasons.
“Dug – Way to take the plunge! Have a great time on the PCT. You will see some beautiful country and come away as a much enriched individual – it’ll be tough but totally worth it.”
George Spearing, who’s book “Dances With Marmots” first introduced me to the whole concept that is the Pacific Crest Trail, wrote to me on my blog just hours before I departed from the PCT’s southern Terminus:
Without question, hiking the PCT was a “milestone experience” for me as a human being…and Skurka was right, I came back an “enriched individual.” I was sensitized to the wonders around me, the beauty that veritably assaulted me around every turn. Imagine getting mugged, daily, by the kind of awe-inspiring beauty that John Muir and Ansel Adams (among countless untold others) were captivated and entranced by so much that they are best known for what happened in their lives by that small area of the globe? There were times that I stopped, whether it was because of a view, a sound, or a thought, and just wept. It was incredible. Back home? They would have probably looked at me and prescribed counseling.
I wondered how the reintegration to post-trail life would be. After living in the woods, especially being completely solo the last 1,000 miles of my hike, how would I fit back into the “regular” world? Where the most intense tasks seem almost silly in comparison to those on the trail…a far cry from scaling an icy, steep slope 13,000+ feet above sea level? Hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney? Not having or finding any water for an 18 mile stretch of hot desert? Or being just a couple feet away from two cougars that decided to make it their sole purpose for nine hours to terrify you as you camped, alone, at the top of an isolated ridge in pitch blackness? How would “normal” relate to me after I got back after all that I experienced?
These are all things that I think, ultimately, draw me back to the trail. Not just any trail…but the Pacific Crest Trail. Sure, there’s challenges on other trails, without question. But it’s the Pacific Crest Trail that beckons to me.
I’ve had several people ask me, just in the last month alone, if I would hike the trail again. Without hesitation or apology, I gave them my answer.
I get it now.